June 2008

Greetings from Seattle

CNNtee.jpgSEATTLE — I’m always on the lookout for signs of the apocalypse. Buying t-shirts on CNN.com with your favorite headlines comes to mind. Check out this beauty to the right.

Another sign that we might be nearing the end is the cheeseburger-in-a-plastic-bag meal offered to me on my Continental flight from Toronto to Seattle. Talk about yuck. Nooooo thank you. I sat out and opted to buy some fruit when I landed in the land of Starbucks. The dude sitting next to me wolfed down two of those suckers, stinking up my row in the process.

But I digress…I’m here and so are the Blue Jays and we’re all in one of the greatest cities in the U.S. of A. As far as road cities go (and I exclude Chicago because that’s where I be from), Seattle is in a dogfight with San Francisco for my second favorite stop. Boston is my favorite hands down. New York is New York, but for my tastes, it slides in at No. 4.

Speaking of New York (I’m just chalk full of tangents today — must be the jetlag), Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston would love for his club to reach the .500 mark by the time the All-Star game at Yankee Stadium rolls around. So, that means Toronto needs an 8-4 record over the next 12 to meet that goal.

With three here against last-place Seattle and another three against Baltimore, mixed between series against the first-place Angels and the resurgent Yankees, an 8-4 record might – might — be attainable. Honestly, I don’t think the Jays will do it, seeing as that’s the equivalent of winning each of the next four series. We’ll see.

I also think it’s a bit early to start heralding Cito and his boys as the team saviors. So far, the Jays have gone 5-4 under Gaston, flashing a much-improved offense against three National League opponents. I want to see if the offense we’ve been seeing more of lately holds up against teams like the Angels of the AL East.

Gaston downplayed the fact that his team has faced lesser opponents so far.

“All these teams have Major League Baseball players. To me, any given night you can be beat by anyone. Any given day you can be beaten. I know that [the American League is] supposed to be better than Cincinnati and better than the Braves, but I just think they’re all big-league teams. You’ve got to take them one by one and it can happen, teams go through bad times. After the All-Star break, it’s a new day too. I don’t see it [as facing lighter competition], I just see them as Major League players — all of them. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be here. There are tougher teams [ahead], but we’ll just take it one day at a time.”

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (37-42) at SEATTLE (31-50)
at 10:10 p.m. ET at lovely Safeco Field

BLUE JAYS
David Eckstein, SS
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Matt Stairs, DH
Scott Rolen, 3B
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Brad Wilkerson, LF

PITCHING: RHP Roy Halladay (8-6, 3.12)

MARINERS
Ichiro Suzuki, RF
Jose Lopez, 2B
Raul Ibanez, LF
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Jeremy Reed, CF
Richie Sexson, 1B
Jeff Clement, DH
Kenji Johjima, C
Willie Bloomquist, SS

PITCHING: RHP R.A. Dickey (2-3, 4.79)

If it ain't broke…

TORONTO — In honor of Cito Gaston’s favorite lineup, which is making an unprecedented (this season at least) fourth appearance in a row, I’m going to forget all about the importance of sample sizes and provide you a glimpse of what this local nine has done since Gaston took over the manager’s chair a week ago:

1. Marco Scutaro, SS: .320/.414/.320, 2 RBI, 6 R, 3 BB
2. Joe Inglett, 2B: .471/.571/.706, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, 5 R, 4 BB
3. Alex Rios, RF: .429/.448/.714, HR, 5 2B, 2 RBI, 5 R, BB
4. Vernon Wells, CF: .308/.310/.346, 2B, 5 RBI, 5 R
5. Matt Stairs, DH: .333/.462/.444, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R, 3 BB
6. Scott Rolen, 3B: .273/.429/.773, 3 HR, 2 2B, 9 RBI, 5 R, 4 BB
7. Lyle Overbay, 1B: .320/.370/.400, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 5 R, 2 BB
8. Gregg Zaun, C: .188/.316/.375, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, 3 BB
9. Adam Lind, LF: .357/.438/.786, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB

TEAM TOTALS: .306/.385/.475, 8 HR, 13 2B, 37 R, 25 BB, 28 K

Man, if only Gibby would’ve found this lineup among the 60-odd combinations he tried. Granted, Jays fans shouldn’t start crying playoffs until there’s a sample size large enough to call a trend, and rolling this lineup against some American League foes will be a better test as well.

So it’s far too early to start annointing Cito and Gene Tenace and their revolutionary “see ball, hit ball” approach as the saviors of this season. There’s a loooong way to go yet. Gaston would like to simply reach .500 before the All-Star break. For those counting at home, the Jays need to go 10-5 over the next 15 games to reach that goal.

Today’s lineups:

ATLANTA (39-41) at TORONTO (38-42)
at 7:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

BRAVES
Gregor Blanco, CF
Ruben Gotay, 3B
Kelly Johnson, 2B
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Brian McCann, C
Greg Norton, DH
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Brandon Jones, LF
Brent Lillibridge, SS

PITCHING: RHP Jair Jurrjens (7-3, 3.20)

BLUE JAYS
See Above.

PITCHING: RHP Dustin McGowan (6-5, 4.21)

Every rose…

rose.jpg…well, you know the rest of the saying. I can’t help but post about the NBA Draft today. Those of you who read regularly know I’m a big Bulls fan, seeing as I grew up in Chicago.

So today the Bulls had the No. 1 pick and decided to go with the hometown special, picking Chicago’s own Derrick Rose. Here’s hoping it works out better than Eddy Curry in 2001.

I was kind of hoping the Bulls would go after Michael Beasley out of Kansas State. I thought he was a better fit, personally, and I don’t usually like sticking with the hometown fave. No doubt, Rose is solid. I just hope this isn’t a Jason Williams redux — he was supposed to be the next big point guard, too. Granted, his motorcycle had more to do with derailing that prospect than anything else.

Kudos to the Raptors for pulling off the Jermaine O’Neal trade. If healthy, he and Bosh should be quite the tandem. I followed the Raps some up here this past season and even got out to a couple games at the ACC — once to see if Dwight Howard’s arms are actually as big as they appear on TV and once to see if the Bulls were really as bad as I was reading. Yes, and yes.

Oh, yeah, baseball. Jays are up, 7-1…

The local nine

TORONTO — The same lineup three games in a row? Is that legal? It sure didn’t seem it when John Gibbons was running the show. Then again, the offense was doing zilch when Gibby was around and he kept trying to find the right mix. Cito Gaston has had — what those things called, runs? — so he keeps rolling out the same order.

Yeah, yeah, bases loaded no outs, no runs. 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Loss. All on Wednesday night. But, shoot, five runs in a loss was almost unheard of earlier this year — let alone another game that included more than one homer. I mean, one homer has been hard to come by for the Jays.

Gaston said he likes what Voodoo? Mighty? Joltin’? Joe Inglett has been doing out of the No. 2 spot so he’s kept him there. Inglett’s showing has helped convince Gaston to keep Marco Scutaro at short. But, Scutaro’s play has also kept him in the mix, too. Gaston said he still plans on getting David Eckstein back in there soon.

Cito said he might’ve switched the order up some tonight, but he didn’t think it was fair for the guys who have been sitting to have to come in and face Edinson Volquez right out of the gates. So, same lineup it is. Two more times, and this will be tied for the most used lineup of the season.

Oh, and in case any of you have been out of the loop, John Parrish is starting for the Jays on Saturday. It was officially announced today, even though we’ve been writing it for a few days now. With the Triple-A Chiefs, the 30-year-old lefty has gone 10-1 with a 2.74 ERA, 90 strikeouts and 35 walks in 82 innings. Not too shabby.

Today’s lineups:

CINCINNATI (36-42) at TORONTO (37-42)
at 7:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

REDS
Jerry Hairston, SS
Adam Dunn, LF
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Ken Griffey Jr., DH
Joey Votto, 1B
Jeff Keppinger, 3B
Jay Bruce, RF
Corey Patterson, CF
Paul Bako, C

PITCHING: RHP Edinson Volquez (10-1, 1.71)

BLUE JAYS
Marco Scutaro, SS
Joe Inglett, 2B
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Matt Stairs, DH
Scott Rolen, 3B
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Gregg Zaun, C
Adam Lind, LF

PITCHING: RHP Jesse Litsch (7-4, 4.06)

Hill stops by

TORONTO — Cito Gaston has received plenty of congratulatory phone calls since assuming the manager’s chair for the Jays on Friday. On Wednesday, he ran through a list of some of his callers: George Bell, Leo Mazzone, Cecil Fielder, Mel Queen and, wouldn’t you know it, Frank Thomas.

“Every day I get here I say I’m going to call some of them back, but I’ve just been so busy,” Gaston said.

When he’s not weeding through his voicemail, Gaston is also having visitors drop by the stadium. One Joe Carter ducked his head into the manager’s office after the game last night and Gaston’s face lit up. Before Tuesday’s game, Gaston also spent a couple hours with former Jays prez Paul Beeston.

Gaston also noted that Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill, who is out indefinitely with a concussion and has been instructed to stay away from the team for two weeks (as to avoid wanting to take part in baseball activities), dropped by the ballpark to say hi to his new skipper.

“Aaron came by to see me today,” Gaston said. “He’s anxious to get back in the lineup. I told him that we’d love to have him back in the lineup, but we want him back healthy. It’s not about today, it’s about the rest of his life and his future. They’re starting to take those things a little more seriously than they used to and I think they should.”

Hill was clocked in the side of the face on May 29 by a David Eckstein elbow and has been dealing with post-concussion symptoms ever since. As Gaston noted in that last quote, concussions weren’t treated with nearly as much care as they are nowadays.

“I got one right here,” said Gaston, pointing to his left cheek — nearly the same spot Hill was drilled. “And I was in the lineup the next day. I guess they hit me in the right place. Back then, it was, ‘How do you feel?’ ‘I feel good.’ ‘Where are you?’ ‘I don’t know, but I can play.'”

Gaston was then asked if he remembered who hit him.

“Oh, no, it was too long ago,” he said with a laugh. “See? And I said it didn’t affect me, right?”

Today’s lineups:

CINCINNATI (35-42) at TORONTO (37-41)
at 7:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

REDS
Jay Bruce, RF
Adam Dunn, LF
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Ken Griffey Jr., DH
Joey Votto, 1B
Jeff Keppinger, SS
Corey Patterson, CF
Javier Valentin, 3B
David Ross, C

PITCHING: RHP Aaron Harang (3-10, 4.33)

BLUE JAYS
Marco Scutaro, SS
Joe Inglett, 2B
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Matt Stairs, DH
Scott Rolen, 3B
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Gregg Zaun, C
Adam Lind, LF

PITCHING: RHP Roy Halladay (8-6, 2.90)

QUOTABLE: “Last night he came in and he sat down and I said, ‘Worn out, huh?’ He said, ‘A little bit.’ But I said, ‘Keep it up.’ We want him to be worn out. It was a good night for him last night — a good night for all of us.” – Gaston, on third-base coach Nick Leyva and Toronto’s 14-run, 22-hit win on Tuesday

Been there, Dunn that

TORONTO — So it’s the sixth inning and I’m blogging now, so sue me. Honestly, I was so dumbfounded by the fact that the Blue Jays were scoring 11 runs over the first two innings that I complete forgot about hopping on here. Ah, well. Better late than never.

With the Reds in town, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi couldn’t escape questions about the recent controversy involving him and the Cincy slugger. As you probably know by now, Ricciardi made some comments last week during his weekly radio show, saying Dunn “lacked a passion for the game.” Dunn wasn’t happy.

On Tuesday, Ricciardi had this to say:

“I talked to Adam on Saturday, so I see it as a dead issue. I don’t know if he [accepted it] or if he didn’t, but I apologized. Actually, he called me. I tried to get his phone, but I wasn’t having any luck. So he called me and I told him I made a mistake. I apologized. I let my guard down, which I shouldn’t have done, but I did. That’s all I can do is apologize.”

Upon hearing that, Dunn said that phone conversation never took place. Caught up with Ricciardi up here in the pressbox later and he stuck by his story, insisting that he spoke with someone on Saturday who claimed to be Dunn. Ricciardi was at a loss, “All I know is the person I talked to said it was Adam Dunn. That’s quite a prank to pull.”

Somebody’s fibbing, but honestly, it’s reached the “Who cares?” realm, in my book. Ricciardi said what he said, he issued an apology either indirectly or directly to Dunn, Dunn didn’t reall sound like he accepted the apology, and let’s move on. Dunn’s not coming to Toronto.

Oh, yeah, it was Cito Gaston’s first appearance at the Rogers Centre since taking over as the manager. The fans responded with loud chants of “Cito! Gaston!” in the fifth inning.

Today’s lineups:

CINCINNATI (35-41) at TORONTO (36-41)
at 7:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

REDS
Norris Hopper, CF
Adam Dunn, LF
Ken Griffey Jr., DH
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Joey Votto, 1B
Jeff Keppinger, 3B
Jay Bruce, RF
Paul Janish, SS
Paul Bako, C

PITCHING: RHP Bronson Arroyo

BLUE JAYS
Marco Scutaro, SS
Joe Inglett, 2B
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Matt Stairs, DH
Scott Rolen, 3B
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Gregg Zaun, C
Adam Lind, LF

PITCHING: RHP A.J. Burnett

NOTES: RHP Shaun Marcum (right elbow) is due to resume throwing on Saturday and Ricciardi said the pitcher will likely be out until after the All-Star Game. … Ricciardi again said there’s no timetable for the return of 2B Aaron Hill (concussion). … Ricciardi noted that LHP John Parrish is the “front-runner” for Saturday’s start against the Braves. … Former hitting coach Gary Denbo has been offered a job as Toronto’s roving Minor League hitting instructor. … Gaston indicated that shortstop is the one position he’s still trying to sort out the playing time for. Scutaro has started at short the past two games.

Parting shots

PITTSBURGH — It goes without saying that the coaches who were recently let go by the Blue Jays aren’t happy, and know that the coaches who survived the firings aren’t all pleased with everything that’s gone on around the team either.

This was a tough weekend for a lot of people around the Jays camp.

The coaches who are still with the club — pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, bench coach Brian Butterfield and bullpen coach Bruce Walton — are each only signed through this year and it’s an open question whether they may consider their options at the end of the season in light of the recent developments.

Former first-base coach and long-time Toronto coach/player Ernie Whitt is the first of the fired coaches to air his thoughts. Here’s some of what he told the Toronto Sun in a story by Bob Elliott in today’s paper:

“The word ‘disappointment’ doesn’t fit. The word ‘shock’ doesn’t accurately describe how I feel.

“I understand that, when a team is not performing, the manager’s job is on the line. When we’re not hitting, the hitting instructor’s job is on the line. Usually, if the manager is fired, the bench takes over or the bench coach is fired. This is difficult to accept or to understand.

“J.P. Ricciardi wanted me to quit last year by re-assigning me. He has wanted to get rid of me for a while. All the time I was there, he never once asked my opinion. Gibbons would, as a game would unfold.

“I thought I had people in my corner. I go back a long way with Paul Godfrey, with people close to the team like Herb Solway and Paul Beeston. … I’m beyond angry, I’m beyond shock. I am trying to take the high road, but if I did something wrong, I wish they’d have explained it to me.

“I thought giving my loyalty and passion to the game, the city of Toronto, the Jays fans and this organization meant something. The love I have for this organization, my God, and all of a sudden it has been pulled away. That’s the biggest disappointment. The best answer I can come up with is they thought it was a good time to get rid of me.

“I still feel I’m the best manager Toronto has never hired.”

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (35-41) at PITTSBURGH (36-39)
at 1:35 p.m. ET at PNC PARK

BLUE JAYS
Marco Scutaro, SS
Joe Inglett, 2B
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Gregg Zaun, C
Adam Lind, LF
Dustin McGowan, P

PIRATES
Luis Rivas, 2B
Jack Wilson, SS
Nate McLouth, CF
Jason Bay, LF
Adam LaRoche, 1B
Jason Michaels, RF
Jose Bautista, 3B
Raul Chavez, C
Ian Snell, P

Marcum DL'd with elbow injury

PITTSBURGH — Jays right-hander Shaun Marcum has been placed on the 15-day DL with a an injury to his throwing elbow and he’s currently in Florida seeing team doctor Steve Mirabello. Marcum is scheduled to see renowned arm specialist Dr. James Andrews in the next few days.

Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg said Marcum has been dealing with some minor discomfort in his arm for the past few weeks, but the pitcher didn’t indicate that he felt bad enough to skip a start. The Jays finally decided that Marcum should be checked out after the pain persisted.

Replacing Marcum on the roster is outfielder Adam Lind, who was called up from Triple-A Syracuse. He was sitting next to Chip Cannon win the third inning of a game on Friday night when the manager delivered the news saying, “You’re going to first,” to Cannon and then “You’re going to Pittsburgh” to Lind. “I was shocked,” Lind said.

Jays ace Roy Halladay was fine a day after being struck in the head with a line drive. He underwent a CAT scan on Friday night and everything came up clear. Halladay is going to start as planned on Wednesday. The Jays will need to call up a starter to fill in for Marcum on Saturday.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (35-40) at PITTSBURGH (35-39)
at 7:05 p.m. ET at PNC PARK

BLUE JAYS
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Rod Barajas, C
Kevin Mench, LF
David Eckstein, SS
Jesse Litsch, P

PIRATES
Jack Wilson, SS
Freddy Sanchez, 2B
Nate McLouth, CF
Jason Bay, LF
Adam LaRoche, 1B
Doug Mientkiewicz, RF
Jose Bautista, 3B
Raul Chavez, C
Paul Maholm, P

Going retro

PITTSBURGH — You’ll have to excuse my lack of bloggage yesterday. That was quite the hectic day for this weary scribe — nothing sleeping in couldn’t cure this morning, though.

My day yesterday began at 4:45 a.m. in Milwaukee. I’m on a strict schedule for that whole marathon training program I’m doing and I had to log 5 miles yesterday. That meant heading out at 5 for a jaunt along Lake Michigan before heading to the airport.

Two flights later — thanks Continental! — I was in Pittsburgh and at my hotel around 12:30, about the time the news landed that the Blue Jays had fired John Gibbons and brought back Cito Gaston and a few of his handpicked coaches. Add 12 innings and an ace pitcher getting hit in the face with the liner and, well, I was beat.

Gibbons handled his dismissal with grace, offering nothing but thanks to the Jays and GM J.P. Ricciardi for giving him the chance to manage. The only part that bothered Gibby — a fellow American who will be missed — was that three other coaches (Ernie Whitt, Marty Pevey and Gary Denbo) also were shown the door.

“That’s the toughest part of it all,” said Gibbons, who received the news Friday morning in Pittsburgh. “If it just effects me, that’s one thing, but when other coaches are involved — that’s their livelihoods. That’s what bothers me.”

Know that Gibby never lost that clubhouse. The players in that clubhouse were Gibbons fans, but simply lost too many games to this point, underachieving in light of lofty expectations, and costing Gibby his job in the process. A move had to be made as a statement that the season to this point has been unacceptable.

I’ll admit that it seemed a bit odd to bring back Gaston and some members from the Jays’ staff from the 1990s. I was going over possible replacements earlier this week and considered Gaston’s chances, but didn’t think the club would go that route. Well, I thought wrong, and it’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out.

In his first game as the new-old skipper, Gaston watched the same ol’ Blue Jays: great pitching, no hitting. Toronto dropped a 1-0 game in 12 innings in Pitt and Gaston admitted to making “some mistakes out there.” One, perhaps being a little rusty after 11 years between managerial stints, came when Gaston brought Jason Frasor into the game in the 12th.

“I walked off the mound tonight to give the umpire the name of the pitcher,” he explained. “Once you walk off you can’t go back. He walked away from me and I walked off to tell him and I couldn’t go back. So when Frasor came in, I couldn’t even tell him anything, so I just tossed the ball to [Wilkerson] and he gave him the ball. That’s a mistake on my part right there.”

As for Roy Halladay, who took a line drive off the side of his face and left after seven inning, he was deemed day-to-day and expected to make his next start. Still, as a precaution, he was off to have an X-ray after the game. So, we’ll learn more tomorrow. After what’s been going on with Aaron Hill (out indefinitely due to post-concussion syndrome), the Jays aren’t taking any chances.

Unfiltered

MILWAUKEE — Did Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi learn nothing from the recent A.J. Burnett ordeal, or even from his own slip of the tongue last season about B.J. Ryan’s injury?

I give Ricciardi all the credit in the world for being one of the game’s most accessible GMs, and his willingness to speak is mind is wonderful for us scribes. But there are still times when Ricciardi would benefit from applying the ol’ filter to his thoughts. He openly aired them again on Wednesday night and he’s talked himself into some controversy once again.

This is from “Wednesday’s with J.P.” — the weekly radio call-in show Ricciardi has with Jays fans on the FAN 590 AM in Toronto. Ricciardi was asked if Toronto perhaps had interest in Reds slugger Adam Dunn, to which J.P. responded:

“Let me ask you something. What do you know about Adam Dunn?” Riccardi told the caller. “He’s a lifetime .230, .240 hitter that strikes out a ton and hits home runs. Do you know that the guy really doesn’t like baseball all that much?

“Do you know the guy doesn’t have a passion to play the game that much? How much do you know about the player? There’s a reason why you’re attracted to some players and there’s a reason why you’re not attracted to some players.

“I don’t think you’d be very happy if we brought Adam Dunn here.”

All Ricciardi had to say was something to the effect of, “No, we’re not interested in Adam Dunn. He doesn’t fit what we’re looking for” and this would’ve been another non-story. Just like if he’d never admitted the Jays lied about Ryan’s elbow injury last year during the same weekly call-in show.

Last week it was Burnett saying he’d accept a trade to the Cubs “with open arms,” instead of limiting his comments to “my loyalties rest with the Blue Jays and I’m not thinking about my future just yet.” Burnett had to deal with the aftermath of his honesty and Ricciardi’s now dealing with the same.

In Cincinnati, here’s what Dunn had to say to reporters:

“I know nothing about this clown. I have no idea who he is. I don’t really care what one guy thinks, to be honest with you. If I’m a GM, I don’t know if I would go out of my way to kind of discredit a player.

“It [ticks] me off to be honest with you. He doesn’t even know me. If he knew me, fine, say what you want. This guy doesn’t know anything about me other than what he sees on whatever SportsCenter they have up there. That’s it.”

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (35-38) at MILWAUKEE (38-33)
at 2:05 p.m. ET at Miller Park

BLUE JAYS
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Matt Stairs, LF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Vernon Wells, CF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Alex Rios, RF
Gregg Zaun, C
David Eckstein, SS
A.J. Burnett, P

BREWERS
Craig Counsell, 2B
J.J. Hardy, SS
Ryan Braun, LF
Prince Fielder, 1B
Corey Hart, RF
Russell Branyan, 3B
Gabe Kapler, CF
Jason Kendall, C
Ben Sheets, P

NOTES: Jays RF Alex Rios was moved down to the No. 6 spot in the lineup — the lowest he’s hit in the order this season — in light of his recent struggles. Said Jays manager John Gibbons: “It’ll take a little pressure off — take a load off — and maybe get him going. He’s missing his pitch and his swing is a little long.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.